The world’s best retirement destinations might surprise you

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Johnny Wood, Writer, Formative Content


  • Countries in Europe and Central America dominate 2021’s Top 10 list of best places to retire.
  • The most popular retirement destinations feature good weather, professional healthcare provision, simple access and affordability.
  • Spoiler alert: Panama tops the list of the world’s best retirement spots for 2021.

For many in the global North, retirement is a time to wave goodbye to workday stresses and discover an idyllic spot where you can take things easy. For some, it’s a deckchair, for other it’s a whole other country. For the lucky latter, the only question is…where to live?

Everyone has their own take on what makes the perfect retirement location, but International Living’s 2022 Global Retirement Index may make it easier to find it.

The annual index features a list of global retirement hotspots, compiled using personal experiences of expats in each location, combined with factors like cost of living, climate, medical provision and ease of bureaucracy.

A survey found 25% of US adults think they need at least a million dollars to retire comfortably.
A survey found 25% of US adults think they need at least a million dollars to retire comfortably. Image: AAG

Careful planning is essential as an enjoyable retirement can be costly. A survey by AAG found a quarter of respondents in the US believe they will need at least a million dollars to retire comfortably.

Best places to retire

Here are the Global Retirement Index’s top-10 retirement destinations for 2022.

10. Uruguay


Situated between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is a Spanish-speaking nation of around 3.5 million people, with warm summers and mild winters.

A range of lifestyles and living costs are on offer, including ranches and farms in the interior grasslands, tree-lined cities like Montevideo and beach towns dotted along the coastline.


Navigating visas and residency is straightforward, healthcare is cheap and accessible and there are plenty of outdoor activities, street parades and good eating available.

9. Spain


There’s more to Spain than its well-known sunny beaches, low cost of living and relaxed lifestyle. Straddling the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, the nation also has bustling historic cities, snow-covered mountains and picturesque rural landscapes.

A Mediterranean diet, excellent healthcare provision and a festival culture make this one of the best places to retire for many people from Europe, and increasingly those from North America.

8. Malta


Surrounded by the warm waters of the southern Mediterranean Sea, the tiny islands of Malta – five in total but only two are inhabited – are a mix of Western European lifestyle with a hint of Arabic language and culture.

Summer temperatures can get hot and humid, and this isn’t the cheapest retirement destination, but the all-year sun attracts many residents who also benefit from a world-class healthcare system and plenty of outdoor sports and activities.

Both Maltese and English are widely spoken and, over the centuries, invaders from several civilizations have left their mark on the local cuisine and culture. Malta offers a mix of ancient megaliths, medieval fortresses, rocky hinterland, beaches and coastal fishing villages, with a few cities thrown in for good measure.

Panama tops the 2021 list of the world’s best retirement spots.
Panama tops the 2021 list of the world’s best retirement spots. Image: Unsplash/Angel Silva

7. France


The home of fine wine, haute cuisine and a certain…je ne sais quois, France has something for everyone: big cities, rural hideaways, mountains and sun-soaked beaches.

Residents benefit from a price-protected top-tier health system, reasonable housing costs in many regions, a rich cultural heritage and a laid-back way of life, not to mention the country’s addiction to gourmet culture.

Regions like the Dordoigne in the south-west of France have attracted British expats for many years, but more North Americans are appreciating its charms in recent years, notes International Living.


6. Ecuador


A combination of good climate, environmental diversity and plenty of culture at an affordable price makes Ecuador one of the best places to retire for Europeans and North Americans.

Here, modern living in cities and beach communities meets untapped natural resources, including the Andes mountains, the Amazon Rainforest and the biodiversity of the nearby Galapagos Islands.

There are few places still unspoilt by global commercialism, but this is one of them. Expatriates can mingle with indigenous locals in tribal dress and live an easygoing and varied lifestyle for around $1,500-$1,825 a month.

5. Colombia


Across the border, Colombia is more developed than Ecuador but shares many of its neighbour’s attributes. These include climate options that suit most tastes and a mix of coastline, Andes mountains and Amazon Rainforest.

Healthcare here is excellent, property and living costs are comparatively low, and the visa application process is straightforward for many nationalities. Retirees can live well for little here, among friendly people where English is widely spoken and stunning scenery.

Portugal was voted the fourth most popular retirement destination for 2021.
Portugal was voted the fourth most popular retirement destination for 2021. Image: Unsplash/Nick Karvounis

4. Portugal


From the old-world charm of cities like Lisbon and Porto to the sun-drenched beaches of the Algarve, Portugal has been a favourite retirement destination for some time.

The country has friendly people, low living costs, a world-class healthcare system and low crime rates, making it a safe, enjoyable and affordable place to live.

English is taught in schools and is widely spoken in some areas, and the government offers free Portuguese language courses around the country.


3. Mexico


Located next to the southern border of the US, Mexico has long been a popular destination for North Americans looking for an affordable place in the sun. Expats can choose from a range of climates and lifestyles, which include busy beach resorts, city life and remote rural or desert hideaways.


A monthly budget of around $2,000 is enough for housing, transport and daily living expenses, but you can get by on less or spend a lot more if you choose. Applying for visas or residency is straightforward for those that meet the criteria, and the country boasts affordable and professional healthcare provision that attracts flows of medical tourism.

2. Costa Rica

A tropical climate, affordable living and medical costs, an active outdoor culture, friendly locals and sun-soaked natural beauty have made Costa Rica a magnet for retirees.

Situated between Nicaragua and Panama, this Central American nation is a stable democracy with high literacy rates and a laid-back approach to life. Citizens and residents have access to one of the highest-rated healthcare systems in Latin America, according to International Living.

The landscape ranges from beaches to lush jungle regions, covering multiple climate zones. Protected national parks and wildlife refuges cover about a quarter of the country’s landmass, providing visitors with ample opportunity to connect with nature.

1. Panama

Not for the first time, Panama tops the list of the world’s best places to retire. Located away from Central America’s hurricane belt, its warm tropical climate is tempered by breezes from the Pacific Ocean on one coast and the Caribbean Sea on the other.

It appears Panama has it all: friendly people, a safe living environment and excellent hospitals and medical provision within easy reach of most places. Retirees can choose from beach communities, cool mountain retreats, grassy highlands or modern city living.

Panama is one of only three carbon-negative countries in the world. The famous shipping canal has brought modern communications, infrastructure and affordable transport links to popular domestic expat destinations like Boquete in the highlands.

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